Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Long Retreat

Over the course of my lifetime Lenten observance, I've tried all the tacks. 

The Standard -- when I was 14, I gave up soda, which led to better lifetime habits.
The Rigorous -- the year I gave up sugar, and didn't even eat a piece of the cake at my brother's surprise Leap Day birthday party.
The Basic -- years I've been pregnant and have just stuck with the meatless Fridays and Ash Wednesday observance.
The Habit-Breaker -- the year I tackled getting up early and being organized. It didn't stick.

There's nothing wrong with these sacrifices. They were done for love of God, and God sees all our sacrifices, small and large, and honors them. However, I feel like I've always made my Lenten observance about myself: my bad habits, my lifestyle, my self-improvement. 

When Jesus went into the desert for forty days, he wasn't trying to kick a bad habit. He didn't need spiritual self-improvement. The forty day sojourn in the desert was a time of preparation and deep communication with the Father before Jesus started his public ministry -- a retreat. I wish I could remember where I recently read that ministry to the public depleted Jesus's human nature, so that he needed to withdraw to pray. If Jesus needed that, how much more do we?

This year, I'm taking a Lenten retreat. I'm giving up Facebook -- not because I think it's bad, but because it's so full of noise and instant gratification that it consumes my mental and spiritual space. I want to spend time with the people, in my town and in my parish, that God has put into my life -- people whose very differences from me push me to smooth the edges of my personality that are rough and hone the edges that are dull. 

I'd like to use the space that giving up social media affords me to do more reading and writing. Reading is easy -- I spend a lot of time nursing the baby, enforced sitting, and it's time that can be turned to reading books without detracting from the rest of my day. Writing I need to choose more consciously. I'll keep writing here, of course, and I want to turn my mindless evening Facebook scrolls into editing time for my novel. And, inspired by this Dappled Things post about Why Should You Write?:
So, that’s a lot of correspondence for you all. And I must say, while we’re on the topic, that some of the most meaningful and effective things I have written have been in letters. Unless you get to be someone like O’Connor, your letters are really only read by one person, sometimes two. But boy do they come to mean a lot! So write some letters, if nothing else.
I'm going to put my new fountain pen to use by writing letters for Lent, and I'd be delighted to send one to any reader who will send name and address to me at (I suppose it goes without saying, but that information won't be passed on or used for any other purpose.) If you're a longtime commenter and I never seem to respond to anything you say, please let me send you a letter this Lent! If you read but never comment, let me write to you! If we're friends who never see each other, I'll send you a letter! If you live in my town and we run into each other every Sunday, I still want to write you a letter.

I haven't said much in all this about spiritual development or prayer for Lent. That's because I find that when I know it's Lent, I naturally pull back from indulging in foods, and I add in prayers like Stations of the Cross with the parish. For a discipline, I'm not going to be putting sugar in my tea, but that's so that I have something to be consistent about. I don't want to layer on the practices this Lent because I want to take it as a time to assess what God wants me to do where he's put me -- in this family, in this parish, with these gifts and these flaws. 


Unknown said...

Wow, I didn't know you skipped the cake! Good for you!

Jenny said...

I used to write letters, a long time ago. Now I still haven't finished thank-you notes that should have been finished in October.

Rosebud said...

Your goddaughter always loves - and could use - words of peace and encouragement.

Emily J. said...

I love this idea. Can I copy? I thought about letter writing for Advent, too. I used to write handwritten Christmas letters for a few years, but that fell to the wayside after a handful of years. I still write to and get a handwritten note from my high school English teacher and from my old neighbor who was like an adopted grandmother at Christmastime. It has crossed my mind to write letters to our own kids for confirmation coming up this spring - more thoughtful and less of a drag than a parental lecture.

dawn said...

Instead of a letter, we should meet for coffee (or wine?) since I'm in your town :)

Bored Catholic Teenager said...

I'm going to assume I'm much younger than most readers here and I have limited knowledge on "Catholic Blogs."

My personal interpretation on Fasting and Sacrifice was that we fast to recognize the magnitude of Jesus having fasted for 40 days in the desert and that we also give up something we enjoy (or that is tempting) to recognize how Jesus denied the temptations of the devil.

Obviously, humans can't fast for 40 days and remain healthy so we have our methods of doing so which normally include not eating meat and/or eating less meals during all/or certain days of the week. Resisting temptations isn't something we (as people) can necessarily always do either; we might stay up late, we might skip on responsibilities, we might over-indulge on food or go against our very own morals because of the monetary/social gain. And that's not a bad thing either.

I personally surmise that most people think something in the lines of, "I'm not a bad person, I'll always remain a strong moral person, etc" which isn't great. I think giving up something for lent provides two things; respect towards Jesus and the ability to reanalyze one's life. For instance, if someone who always eats out gave up fast food for lent they could realize how doing so changed their health and/or mood and s/he hopefully will continue to limit or rid fast food from their diet. But here's why I'm hesitant on the "I'm going to give up X for all of lent." The reason I'm hesitant on that is giving up something for lent only isn't a 1:1 comparison to what Jesus did. Which was deny temptation during lent and after, Jesus didn't say, "Alright, the 40 days is done. Satan where are you I'm ready to go now." when lent ended.

And again I'd like to just reiterate that I'm not trying to say that people must give up X forever. I think it might be better if people give up something in their life that's negative or a bad habit (for example I'm doing a lot of things such as not eating any sugars, not eating any fast food, being in bed no later than 9pm, not overworking my body at the gym and limiting myself on entertaining media) and use the experience to improve their lives. And that doesn't mean their or my life is bad, it's just there's always room for improvement or to try something new. Someone's 'lentil sacrifice' could be joining an artistry club, because s/he has social anxiety. It's something that other might see as a vacation but the person sees as difficult. If people fail then they fail, failure is good it indicates progress, that they've tried their best and it's time to try again.

In the end I wrote this comment because I was bored and I've been googling "Catholic Blogs" all morning because I think they're silly. Also, the "p" html tag did not work, so there's a chance my formatting is atrocious.

Foxfier said...

I hope it works out-- I did the e-fast a couple of years, and I think it was two years ago I tried "giving" a Rosary every Friday, specifically because I don't much care for the Rosary but it's a good habit that forces me to slow down. I did it, but it caused a bit of a mess in the process. As things stand right now, I don't really have anything that is mine rather than "because other people" to offer, except for candy coffee. (An every week or two treat.)

So, of course today, I actually ran into five or so different coffee shops before ten am. ^.^ I think Himself accepts it, with his usual humor. *grin*

mrsdarwin said...


I think there's much of value in self-improvement regimens. In the end, though, I think Flannery O'Connor has it right when she relates a vision a character has of heaven, in which "she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away." The magnitude of Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert is not that he achieves a terrific feat of endurance, but that, as shown by his answers to the temptation of Satan, God alone suffices.

The sacrifice of fasting is only of Lenten value if undertaken in love and obedience. The first mass reading today says,

"Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God." (Joel 2:12-)

The gospel also emphasizes the value of the silent, hidden sacrifice which God alone sees. In that sense, fasting, which takes place internally, unseen and unguessed by others, is a powerful sign of the internal silent work of God in our souls.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

I keep thinking: I'd love a letter from Mrs. D. But if I got one would it add to the guilt-inducing pile of correspondence I mean to answer but will never get around to? I probably should have given up Facebooking for Lent, but instead here I am mindlessly scrolling instead of writing. And yet, I've also not got many strong ties to parish or local community and the few that I do have are moderated largely by Facebook. And I use it to keep in touch with family and friends and in the end I didn't think this is the year to try that experiment again. But I hope you have a very fruitful fast.

mrsdarwin said...

Melanie, I'd be glad to write you a letter! I think I have your current address, but would you email it to me so I can be sure? I'm not expecting any return, so don't feel guilty. There is something freeing about being able to write without the instant gratification of getting a reply. I have found the FB fast fruitful, in that I'm not actually being much more productive (because I spent a lot of time on FB while nursing baby, and I have to do that regardless) but I've eliminated a lot of noise from my life. I haven't seen an ignorant meme in weeks. I've skipped the great mass of posturing and outrage during this latest school shooting, reading only the reporting in the Wall Street Journal. And one does not always see the best of one's friends by witnessing their instant reactions to events like that. (One doesn't always get the best of one's friends by reading their considered responses either, but you're more likely to get an accurate picture of their personality, and that's a good thing.)